Myanmar

 

  • ‘The idea that a certain group does not belong in a country is instrumental in enabling discrimination and persecution against it’

    CIVICUS speaks toSusannah Sirkin, director of international policy and partnerships and senior advisor with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Founded in 1986, PHR uses medicine and science to document and call attention to mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. PHR’s work focuses on the physical and psychological effects of torture and sexual violence, the forensic documentation of attacks on civilians, the unnecessary and excessive use of force during civil unrest, and the protection of medical institutions and health professionals working on the frontline of human rights crises. Sirkin oversees PHR’s international policy engagement, including its work with the United Nations, domestic and international justice systems, and human rights coalitions, and is also responsible for managing and multiplying PHR’s strategic partnerships globally.

    1. What is the current situation of the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and in the refugee camps in Bangladesh?

    The situation is absolutely desperate and devastating, both inside Myanmar, as far as anybody can tell, and in Bangladesh, as the world is able to see on television. Essentially, what we have witnessed over the past six months – although this has been building up for years – is what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has referred to as possible genocide, and what most organisations concerned with international law and human rights have denounced as crimes against humanity. Dozens of Rohingya villages have been burnt to the ground, forcing people to flee on long journeys through the jungle to reach a very precarious situation in Bangladesh. People fleeing have been pursued and attacked with guns and other weapons not just by the military but also by civilian members of the Burmese population.

    In Bangladesh, refugees are living in incredibly overcrowded, under-resourced, and dangerous camps – it’s hardly fair to even call them “camps,” although the situation has improved a bit over the past couple of months. More than 620,000 Rohingya, about half the population, have so far fled Rakhine state, and they have nowhere else to go. So they are forced to stay on a very small piece of land in one of the poorest and already most densely populated countries in the world. There have already been outbreaks of infectious diseases, and given the problems of overcrowding and lack of basic hygiene and sanitation, which my own team at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has recently reported, it is possible for infectious diseases to spread rapidly and with lethal results.

    Essentially, the world has witnessed the virtual destruction of a culture, a community and a portion of the Burmese population. Myanmar and Bangladesh have recently reached an agreement for the Rohingya to return to Myanmar, but nobody really believes such an agreement can be implemented under the present circumstances. In the first place, refugees shouldn’t be sent back to Myanmar unless citizenship and basic rights are guaranteed. In the second, the provisions in the agreement involve Rohingya providing documents according to citizenship laws that don’t recognise them as citizens. This is obviously hugely problematic. What’s more, they have no homes to return to, as their villages have been burned, their lands and cattle seized by their non-Muslim neighbours, and many in their families and communities killed. There have also been very serious reports of mass rapes of women and girls, as well as killings of babies and young children, so the situation couldn’t be worse on any count.

    2. Why is the Rohingya minority being specifically targeted?

    There’s a long history of discrimination and persecution of minority groups in Myanmar, not only of the Rohingya but also of the Chin, Kachin, Karen, and Shan minorities. PHR has documented the persecution of ethnic minorities in Myanmar for a decade, and other human rights groups have done it long before us.

    Historically, it has been a problem for people who are not Burmese to live in Burma or Myanmar. There is a hyper-nationalist strain among both the population and the country’s leadership, and, on top of this, the country has lived for decades under a military dictatorship that persecuted not only the political opposition but also ethnic and religious minorities.

    Myanmar has failed to recognise diversity and human rights for all its population. The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a country that has a Buddhist majority, have long been deprived of their citizenship and treated as if they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Many Rohingya have lived in Rakhine state for several generations, well over a hundred years, and belong in Myanmar as much as anybody else. However, in the latest census they were not counted among Burmese minorities but rather as foreigners lacking the protections that citizens receive under the law.

    The idea that a certain group does not belong in a country is instrumental in enabling discrimination and persecution against it. A few years ago, PHR released a report on the burning of Muslim homes in Buddhist-dominated areas of Myanmar. We documented a well-known massacre in the town of Meikhtila, where police and security officials stood by and watched as local population burned houses and people alive. These actions had long been encouraged by racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric, fuelled by a few very charismatic Buddhist monks that had much influence with the population.

    Before the 2015 crackdown and subsequent crisis, more than one million Rohingya lived in Myanmar, most of them in Rakhine state. Their relationship with their Buddhist neighbours had been tense for quite some time, and outbreaks of violence had been relatively frequent in the past. The current crisis broke out in August 2017, when government forces were attacked by militants and a “clearance operation” was launched by Myanmar security forces in response. Mass expulsion of the Rohingya has since been executed under the pretence of a counter-insurgency operation, with the local population joining in burning villages and killing people. This looks like a very well-coordinated effort between officials and citizens, which is very disturbing.

    In present Myanmar, the situation is compounded by the denial of human rights on multiple levels. We have recently seen a frightening crackdown on the freedom of expression in the country, and for some time the area in northern Rakhine State has been closed off to journalists. For some years now, it has been very difficult for humanitarian aid to reach the area. When a government shuts down access in such way, one can only fear the worst, because it strongly suggests that they are trying to hide something.

    3. Has progressive and human rights-oriented civil society in Myanmar and Bangladesh done anything to respond to this crisis? If so, what challenges have they faced?

    There have been efforts by very courageous individuals and organisations inside Myanmar, especially those representing minority groups, as well as human rights and humanitarian organisations. But it is extremely dangerous, if not impossible, to be an independent civil society voice inside Myanmar right now. For the Rohingya in Rakhine State, speaking up means sure death, and there is no access even for journalists to document what is going on in the area. So, unfortunately, even the most courageous members of civil society have been silenced by persecution.

    In Bangladesh, there are a number of efforts underway, particularly by the humanitarian community, to help the refugees. But it’s not the best possible situation in terms of humanitarian response, either. The fact that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was not designated as the lead agency has been viewed negatively, although there has been strong coordination between the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR. In any case, the refugee influx has been overwhelming and the early response was insufficient. Moreover, this is happening in a challenging environment, and we need to understand that such an influx of refugees can be nothing but overwhelming for a country like Bangladesh – which makes an adequate international response all the more important.

    4. You mentioned that the area where the atrocities are occurring is closed to journalists and civil society. What challenges have PHR and similar organisations faced in documenting the abuses?

    The number one challenge is that human rights groups can’t get into Myanmar. It is therefore extremely difficult to do what we are supposed to do in terms of properly and independently documenting and assessing the facts inside the country where the crimes have occurred. The prohibition not only applies to human rights civil society organisations – representatives of the UNHCHR and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar have also been barred from visiting the country. On the other hand, entry was allowed for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, who was able to interview survivors and confirm reports of atrocities.

    As we lack access to Myanmar, we have instead documented what has happened to this people by interviewing them in Bangladesh. Thankfully, human rights groups and humanitarian organisations have had access to refugee camps, and this has been critical to documenting the plight of the Rohingya and their current humanitarian situation, and reporting on it. Doing this in the middle of a huge humanitarian crisis poses specific challenges. We are basically interviewing survivors who are desperately in need of trauma recovery, medical care, shelter, food, water, sanitation, and information about their missing family members. We have interviewed people who lost everybody in their families and are the sole survivors; people who have seen their homes burned to the ground, who had family members raped and shot dead, who were shot at even while crossing the river to get to Bangladesh. Documenting these kinds of human rights violations is certainly challenging for the person that is being interviewed, but it is also challenging for the one doing the reporting, because the need is so intense and the trauma is so acute – and we are a medically-based organisation, after all.

    5. What support should the international community offer to resolve this crisis?

    First, what most urgently requires a response from global governments is the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the ground in Bangladesh, in order to meet the most desperate needs of the refugees.

    Second, there is a need for governments of the most powerful countries with influence on the Myanmar government – including China, which has consistently supported the government – to exert pressure so Myanmar immediately stops persecuting this population and gives them the citizenship and associated guarantees that they are due.

    It is important to note that there have been high expectations regarding the role of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is now Myanmar’s nominal head of state, and her apparent lack of concern and acknowledgment of what her government has been doing have been very concerning. On one hand, we need to understand that she has limited control over the country’s military forces enacting the brutal campaign against the Rohingya. On the other hand, however, the international community needs to send Suu Kyi a strong message, since so much of the Burmese population views her as a leader and a hero, and her voice could change the tenor of this crisis – it could turn the population away from prejudice, discrimination, and persecution of the Rohingya and other minorities.

    Third, there needs to be credible efforts to establish accountability and justice. This is critical, given the seriousness of the crimes that have been committed. Unfortunately, efforts to refer the crimes in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for assessment have been blocked by China, among others.

    Finally, it is also crucial to confront the flaws of the repatriation agreement, so that anybody who chooses to return to Myanmar is able to do so safely and with guarantees for all their human rights, including the right to reclaim their land, property, livelihood, and employment, as well as to practice their religion freely and safely. On the other hand, those who choose not to go back need to be guaranteed the right to claim asylum and find safe haven in another country. Policy-wise, the biggest challenge will be defining what will happen to these people who have fled in such high numbers.

    This will not be an easy crisis to solve. Global politics are not looking particularly good at the moment. World leaders and the Security Council have many other crises to deal with, including the North Korea situation, Iran, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, and so on. Many of us are worried that people are going to forget about this particular crisis unfolding in a remote part of the world, so it is vital to continue to call attention to these serious human rights abuses and not let the world forget that this is an ongoing humanitarian crisis. As recently as last week, we’ve seen reports of outbreaks of diphtheria, and there are fears of a cholera epidemic, which will not be easy to contain. The long-term solution to this crisis will most definitely require continuous surveillance, reporting, and action by UN bodies, regional organisations, individual governments, and civil society.

    • Civic space in Myanmar is rated as ‘repressed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor, indicating serious restrictions in the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression.
    • Get in touch with PHR through their website or Facebook page, or follow @P4HR and @susannahsirkin on Twitter

     

  • CIVICUS condemns conviction of Reuters journalists on trial in Myanmar

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, believes the conviction of two journalists employed by global news agency, Reuters, who have been on trial in Myanmar is a dark day for press freedom in Myanmar. The two journalists have been sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

    Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on December 12, 2017 under the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The reporters, who were facing up to 14 years imprisonment if convicted, were arrested after being handed documents by police officers during a dinner meeting, that turned out to be secret government documents relating to Myanmar’s western Rakhine state and security forces, according to the country’s Information Ministry.

    At the time of their arrest, the journalists, who both pleaded “not guilty” to charges, had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Inn Din village in Rakhine during a brutal military crackdown in that state against the Rohingya minority that began last August. During the trial, a police captain, admitted in court that a senior officer had ordered his subordinates to “trap” the journalists by handing them the classified documents. He was subsequently sentenced to a one-year prison term.

    In recent months, there have been continued attacks on fundamental freedoms in Myanmar with dozens being arrested and charged for peaceful protests or for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

    “We believe the verdict in this trial is a travesty of justice and sends a chilling message to all journalists in the country,” said Clementine de Montjoye, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer at CIVICUS:

    “Prosecutions on spurious grounds serve to intimidate local journalists and activists, and this trial is representative of the Myanmar government’s repeated attempts to cover up its actions,” said de Montjove.

    “Given the state-sponsored atrocities being committed in Myanmar today, the government’s crackdown on independent investigations and dissent is hardly surprising”.

    In an End of Mission report issued in July, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said “the democratic space in Myanmar continues to sharply deteriorate”. Her report also highlighted concerns about the use of repressive laws to suppress political dissidents, youth, human rights defenders and activists and the arrest of demonstrators around the country.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, has rated civic space in Myanmar as repressed. CIVICUS stands in solidarity with Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and all Myanmars who work to promote democracy and the protection of fundamental freedoms.

    ENDS.

    For more information, contact:

    Clementine de Montjoye

     

     

     

  • El Reino Unido responde a las preguntas realizadas por los miembros de CIVICUS al Consejo de Seguridad

    En el marco de sus consultas con la sociedad civil durante su presidencia del Consejo de Seguridad del mes de agosto, la Misión Permanente del Reino Unido de Gran Bretaña e Irlanda del Norte ante las Naciones Unidas respondió a las preguntas presentadas por los miembros de CIVICUS sobre la situación de seguridad en la República Democrática del Congo, Eritrea, Etiopía, Gaza y Birmania.


    La sociedad civil ocupa un papel importante en los programas del Consejo de Seguridad y CIVICUS desea agradecer al Reino Unido y a todos los miembros del Consejo de Seguridad por su compromiso constante con la participación de la sociedad civil en el trabajo del Consejo.

    El Consejo de Seguridad sigue de cerca la situación en la República Democrática del Congo (RDC).  En la resolución 2409 solicitamos al Secretario General que se nos proporcionaran informes cada treinta días.  El Consejo también aborda con frecuencia la situación de la RDC. El Consejo de Seguridad insiste en la importancia de que se celebren elecciones pacíficas, creíbles, inclusivas y oportunas el 23 de diciembre de 2018, en conformidad con el calendario electoral, que conduzcan a un traspaso pacífico del poder, según las disposiciones de la Constitución congoleña.  El Consejo de Seguridad también destaca la importancia de proteger a los civiles, incluso mediante el mandato de la MONUSCO, para la cual su protección es una prioridad estratégica. Durante la presidencia británica tuvo lugar una sesión informativa del Consejo de Seguridad sobre la RDC centrada en las próximas elecciones. Aquí puede consultarse la declaración del embajador.
     
    El Consejo de Seguridad publicó una comunicado sobre la firma de la Declaración conjunta de paz y amistad entre Eritrea y Etiopía del 9 de julio de 2018

    El OOPS fue creado por mandato de la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas.  La posibilidad de que se suspendan sus servicios debido al actual déficit financiero del OOPS es motivo de gran preocupación para los miembros del Consejo de Seguridad, como así se expresó durante las consultas del Consejo celebradas el 22 de agosto sobre la situación en Oriente Medio.

    El Reino Unido sigue firmemente comprometido con el OOPS y con los refugiados palestinos de todo Oriente Medio. Ante las crecientes presiones financieras, el Reino Unido ha aportado alrededor de 60 millones de dólares americanos en 2018. Instamos a otros países a que proporcionen financiación adicional y a que efectúen desembolsos periódicos para garantizar que el OOPS siga llevando acabo su labor esencial.

    El Consejo de Seguridad sigue de cerca y con preocupación la situación en Gaza, por ejemplo, a través de las reuniones informativas periódicas como la que la Secretaria General Adjunta, Rosemary DiCarlo, ofreció ante el Consejo el 22 de agosto.
     
    El principal objetivo a largo plazo del Reino Unido es el retorno seguro, voluntario y digno a Rakáin, bajo supervisión internacional, del mayor número posible de refugiados rohinyás que se encuentran actualmente en Bangladés. En la actualidad, consideramos que las condiciones no son las adecuadas para el regreso de los refugiados. Apoyaremos a Birmania para que así lo haga, pero necesita realizar mejoras tangibles sobre el terreno. De manera más inmediata, Birmania debería permitir el acceso sin trabas de la ONU al norte de Rakáin.

    El Reino Unido ha acogido con satisfacción el anuncio de Birmania de crear una comisión de investigación sobre la violencia en Rakáin. Ahora es esencial que el gobierno birmano establezca las condiciones para que dicha investigación sea creíble, transparente e imparcial. Aún esperamos la decisión de la CPI con el fin de saber si tiene jurisdicción sobre las deportaciones de rohinyás a Bangladés (país signatario del Estatuto de Roma).
     
    Este mes, los miembros de CIVICUS preguntaron por las libertades cívicas en Colombia, la retirada de las tropas de la UNAMID de Darfur, la inseguridad alimentaria en el Sahel, la reubicación de la embajada de los Estados Unidos en Jerusalén, el deterioro del espacio cívico en Uganda, el caso de Omar Al Bashir en la Corte Penal Internacional y la amenaza mundial que supone la ciberdelincuencia.

    Estas preguntas y respuestas son el resultado de un llamamiento mensual a los miembros de CIVICUS para que envíen sus preguntas al presidente del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU. Esta es una oportunidad para que los miembros entren en contacto con un importante foro internacional de toma de decisiones. El personal de CIVICUS plantea las preguntas en nombre de los miembros de CIVICUS durante el informe mensual del presidente. ¡Hágase socio de CIVICUS para mantenerse informado y participar en esta acción!

     

  • Joint statement on critical topics from 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Our organisations welcome the adoption of the resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly in reaffirming that all approaches to development must comply with the State’s international human rights obligations.

    We agree that “cooperation and dialogue” are important for the promotion and protection of human rights, and that States should fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms, and ensure that all stakeholders are able to cooperate and engage with them without fear of reprisals. 

    However, we must now be vigilant to ensure that the resolution on Mutually Beneficial Cooperation, lacking in balance, does not undermine other important parts of the Council’s mandate: to address human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies in specific countries. 

    The Council has failed to take meaningful action to address the alarming situation on the ground in Cambodia. We welcome and echo the joint statement on Cambodia by over 40 states calling for further action if the situation does not improve in the lead up to the elections and for a briefing by the High Commissioner before the next Council session. We are concerned by Cambodia’s attempt to shut down criticism under item 10 debate on the worsening human rights situation in the country, as they are doing domestically.

    We are disappointed by the weak outcome on Libya. Given the gravity of the human rights situation on the ground and the lack of accountability for crimes under international law, the Council cannot justify the lack of a dedicated monitoring and reporting mechanism. 

    We welcome the co-sponsorship of the Myanmar resolution by groups of States from all regions, making a joint commitment to address the continuing human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the country and support for the Special Rapporteur and Fact-Finding Mission to fulfil its mandate to establish truth and ensure accountability for perpetrators. 

    We also welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan allowing it to continue its vital investigations and identification of perpetrators. These developments acknowledge the importance of accountability for serious human rights violations and crimes under international law, which cannot be understated.

    We welcome the adoption of the resolution on drugs and human rights as the OHCHR report will provide human rights indicators related to the drug issue that would help in future policies.

    We welcome the resolution on Eastern Ghouta adopted after an urgent debate, demonstrating how this Council can respond in an agile manner to crises.

    Having long supported the resolution on “protection of human rights while countering terrorism", we appreciate the efforts that led to the end of the separate and deeply flawed initiative on "effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights". Future versions of the resolution must address the relevant issues exclusively and comprehensively from the perspective of the effective protection of human rights. 

    We welcome the Dutch-led joint statement on strengthening the Council, emphasising the importance of substantive civil society participation in any initiative or process and that the Council must be accessible, effective and protective for human rights defenders and rights holders on the ground.

    Finally, we call on the Bureau co-facilitators on improving the efficiency and strengthening the Council to closely engage with all Members and Observers of the Council, human rights defenders and civil society organisations not based in Geneva. 

    Delivered by: The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (DefendDefenders), The Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, CIVICUS, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Human Rights House Foundation, Amnesty International, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Human Rights Watch, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

     

  • Le Royaume-Uni répond aux questions posées par les membres de CIVICUS sur le Conseil de sécurité

    Durant les consultations du mois d’août de la présidence du Conseil de sécurité avec la société civile, la Mission permanente du Royaume-Uni auprès de l’Organisation des Nations Unies a répondu aux questions soumises par les membres de CIVICUS concernant les situations sécuritaires en République Démocratique du Congo, Érythrée-Éthiopie, Gaza et Myanmar.


    La société civile joue un rôle important dans l’agenda du Conseil de sécurité et CIVICUS remercie le Royaume-Uni et tous les membres du Conseil de sécurité pour leur engagement à impliquer la société civile dans son fonctionnement.

    Le Conseil de sécurité suit de près la situation en RDC. Dans le cadre de la résolution 2409, nous avons demandé au Secrétaire général de nous faire transmettre des rapports mensuels. Le conseil tient des discussions fréquentes sur la RDC. Le Conseil de sécurité continue de souligner à quel point il est important que les élections du 23 décembre 2018 soient tenues dans le calme, de façon crédible, inclusive et dans les temps et qu’elles respectent le calendrier électoral, menant à un transfert pacifique du pouvoir, en accord avec la constitution congolaise. Le Conseil de sécurité continue aussi d’accentuer l’importance de la protection des civils, y compris à travers le mandat de la MONUSCO qui fait de la protection des civils une priorité stratégique. Durant la présidence du Royaume-Uni, un briefing s’est tenu au Conseil de sécurité sur les élections à venir en RDC. La déclaration de l’ambassadeur se trouve ici.

    Le Conseil de sécurité a publié un communiqué concernant la signature de la déclaration conjointe de paix et d’amitié entre l’Érythrée et l’Éthiopie du 9 Juillet 2018.

    L’UNRWA (l'Office de secours et de travaux des Nations unies pour les réfugiés de Palestine dans le Proche-Orient) a été établi et reçoit son mandat de l‘assemblée générale de l’ONU. La possibilité qu’elle doive suspendre ses services à cause de sa mauvaise situation financière préoccupe énormément les membres du Conseil de sécurité, comme cela a été exprimé durant les consultations du conseil du 22 août sur la situation au Moyen-Orient. Le Royaume-Uni reste fortement engagé dans son soutien à l’UNRWA et aux réfugiés palestiniens à travers le Moyen-Orient. Face à des pressions financières de plus en plus fortes, le Royaume-Uni a versé environ 60 millions de dollars en 2018. Nous continuons d’encourager d’autres à verser des financements additionnels et à effectuer des versements réguliers pour assurer que l’UNRWA puisse continuer son travail essentiel.
     
    Le Conseil de sécurité suit avec beaucoup de préoccupation la situation à Gaza, y compris à travers des briefings réguliers, comme par exemple celui du 22 août par la Secrétaire générale adjointe Rosemary DiCarlo.

    Sur le long-terme, le Royaume-Uni a pour but ultime le retour sans danger, volontaire et avec dignité du million de réfugiés Rohingyas, actuellement au Bangladesh, vers l’Etat Rakhine sous la surveillance internationale. Nous estimons que les conditions actuelles ne sont pas suffisantes pour que les réfugiés y retournent. Nous soutiendrons la Birmanie pour y arriver, mais une amélioration concrète des conditions sur le terrain est nécessaire. Dans l’immédiat, la Birmanie devrait donner à l’ONU un accès sans restriction à l’Etat du Nord-Rakhine. L’ONU s’est réjouie de la déclaration du gouvernement birman annonçant la mise en place d’une commission d’enquête sur les violences commises dans l’Etat Rakhine. Il est à présent essentiel que le gouvernement birman démontre comment l’enquête sera crédible, transparente et impartiale. Nous sommes toujours en attente d’une décision de la CPI concernant sa compétence à juger des déportations des Rohingyas au Bangladesh (qui est un état signataire du statut de Rome).

    D’autres questions soumises par les membres de CIVICUS ce mois concernent les libertés civiques en Colombie, le retrait des troupes de l’UNAMID au Darfur, l’insécurité alimentaire au Sahel, la relocalisation de l’Ambassade des États-Unis d’Amérique à Jérusalem, la détérioration de l’espace civique en Ouganda, le cas du dirigeant Soudanais, Omar Al Bashir auprès de la Cour Pénale Internationale et la menace globale du cyber crime.

    Ces questions-réponses résultent d’un appel mensuel auprès des membres CIVICUS de soumettre leurs questions au président du Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies. Il s’agit d’une opportunité pour nos membres d’être reliés à un forum international important où des décisions sont prises. Les employés de CIVICUS posent les questions au nom de nos membres durant le briefing du président tous les mois. Tenez-vous informé en devenant membre de CIVICUS.

     

  • Myanmar: Drop Charges Against Three Kachin Activists 

    Joint Statement by CIVICUS and Amnesty International

    Myanmar authorities must immediately drop defamation charges against three Kachin activists who led a peaceful rally in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State. The march was to call for humanitarian access to thousands of displaced civilians and for an end to the armed conflicts in northern Myanmar. 

    The prosecution of the activists – and other recent cases of politically motivated arrest and imprisonment – represent an alarming return to practices that characterized Myanmar’s decades of direct military rule. 

    Myanmar-anti-war-protestsOn 3 September 2018, Lum Zawng (m), Nang Pu (f), and Zau Jet (m) were charged under Section 500 of the Penal Code with defamation of the Myanmar military. The charges relate to statements they made at a peaceful rally on 30 April 2018 and at a press conference the next day, following major escalation in fighting between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic armed organization in Kachin State. The violence displaced more than 5,000 civilians, 2,000 of whom were trapped for several weeks in a forest near the village of Aung Lawt without access to humanitarian assistance or safe passage from the area. 

    In response, on 30 April, thousands of people gathered peacefully in Myitkyina to demand the rescue of trapped civilians, the resumption of humanitarian access and an end to the conflict. Lawyer Lum Zawng was one of the organizers of the rally where protesters called for the military to stop aerial attacks on civilians. The authorities have charged him with defamation. 

    The other two activists, Nang Pu, Director of the Htoi Gender and Development Foundation, and Zau Jet, Chairman of the Kachin National Social Development Foundation, are also facing defamation charges for comments they made at a press conference after the rally. The two had spoken about the situation of displaced civilians in the Hpakant area and about reports of threats against and ill-treatment of civilians by Myanmar soldiers. If convicted, they each face up to two years in prison. 

    The prosecution of Lum Zawng, Nang Pu and Zau Jet is clearly an attempt by the Myanmar authorities to intimidate, harass and silence community leaders and human rights defenders who speak out about military abuses and the impact on civilian populations. Amnesty International and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS call on the Myanmar authorities to immediately drop the charges against the three activists. 

    The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Under international human rights law and standards, certain restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly may be imposed, but only in narrow, clearly defined circumstances. Such restrictions must be provided by law; be limited to certain specified purposes such as national security, public order or respect of the rights or reputation of others; and be necessary and proportionate to the achievement of one of those permissible purposes. 

    Amnesty International and CIVICUS are concerned about a range of laws in Myanmar – including Section 500 of the Penal Code – which are incompatible with the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and which are used to arrest, prosecute and imprison human rights defenders and other peaceful activists. Both organizations urge the Myanmar authorities – in particular Parliament – to take immediate action to review and repeal or else amend all such laws to bring them into line with international human rights law and standards. 

    Human rights defenders play a vital role in the protection and promotion of human rights, and it is crucial that they are able to speak out freely on human rights violations, including those committed by the military against civilians in areas of armed conflict, without fear of repercussions. Under Article 2 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, each state has a duty to create the conditions necessary to defend human rights within their jurisdictions. Amnesty International and CIVICUS call on the government of Myanmar to ensure an environment in which it is possible to defend human rights without fear of reprisal or intimidation.

    Background
    The armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been ongoing since June 2011, after a 17-year ceasefire ended. Since the resumption of hostilities, fighting has spread to other parts of northern Myanmar, involving a myriad of armed groups.

    The Myanmar military has committed war crimes and other gross human rights violations against civilians, particularly from ethnic minorities, as documented in detail by Amnesty International in a June 2017 report and by the UN Fact-Finding Mission in a report presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2018. These crimes and violations include unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas. Ethnic armed groups have also committed abuses against civilians. Investigations into allegations of human rights violations and crimes under international law are rare and perpetrators seldom, if ever, held to account, contributing to a climate of impunity in the country. 

    More than 100,000 people have been internally displaced across the conflict-affected areas of northern Myanmar since 2011, many of them displaced multiple times. The humanitarian situation of internally displaced people (IDPs) remains serious, with ongoing concerns about conditions in IDP camps, including access to food, shelter, clean water and sanitation. In addition, the authorities – both civilian and military – have imposed severe restrictions on humanitarian access, exacerbating the needs of the displaced population.

    ENDS

    For more information, contact:

    Josef Benedict
    josef.benedict{AT}civicus.org

     

  • Myanmar: Under the name of democracy, the military rules

    Guest article by Thinzar Shunlei Yi, Advocacy Coordinator, Action Committee for Democracy Development

     

  • Open Letter to UN member states: Urgent action needed on Myanmar

    To:Member and Observer states of the UN Human Rights Council
    Subject:Urgent action needed on Myanmar

    Dear Excellencies

    We write to you regarding the deeply concerning situation in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State. Reports estimate that more than 270,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh following the outbreak of violence two weeks ago, and this figure is expected to significantly increase. Thousands of non-Muslim residents have also been internally displaced. Reports have also emerged of entire villages being burnt and hundreds killed. On 31 August, three UN Special Rapporteurs expressed concern citing credible reports of death to villagers resulting from security force attacks, and the use of helicopters and rocket propelled grenades on the population. On 5 September, speaking to reporters, the UN Secretary General warned of a risk of ethnic cleansing. Access to northern Rakhine State has been denied to independent observers and humanitarian aid agencies while media has been tightly controlled – leaving the territory under a virtual information blackout and exacerbating a humanitarian catastrophe. We call on the UN Human Rights Council to urgently act – by passing a resolution on Myanmar calling for an end to abuses against the population and ensuring immediate humanitarian access.

    The UN Human Rights Council established a Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM) at its 34th session in March this year, following reports of alarming human rights violations in Rakhine State beginning in October last year. In February 2017, a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and statements by the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar referred to reports of egregious violations targeting the Rohingya minority at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 – including the deliberate killing of children, the burning of homes with people inside them, rape, and sexual violence. The OHCHR report concluded that reports indicate the very likely commission of crimes against humanity. Military operations conducted during this period bear a close semblance to current operations which involve mass exodus of Rohingya fleeing violence, multiple reports of civilian deaths, and egregious violations under an information blackout, without independent access to observers or journalists.

    The current bout of violence began following reports of coordinated attacks on police posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed militant organisation, on 25 August – after which the Myanmar military launched a massive response. Weeks before the current outbreak of violence, on 11 August, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar expressed concern on increasing military build-up in Rakhine State. The violence broke out immediately following the release of a report by an international commission headed by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which called for reforms to address wide-ranging forms of discrimination faced by the Rohingya community. On 29 August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cautioned all sides on fuelling further violence and called on the government leadership to condemn the inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to hatred that is proliferating. He further expressed concerns on unsupported government allegations that international aid organizations were complicit in or supporting attacks, as this places aid workers in danger and may make it impossible for them to deliver essential aid.

    Myanmar has so far failed to restore full humanitarian access following the preceding period of violence that began in October 2016. The Myanmar government has hitherto been reluctant to cooperate with the FFM and has denied allegations relating to violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. The government has also refused to reform discriminatory laws that affect the Rohingya community and deny them full citizenship rights, leaving the community in a vulnerable situation.

    It is imperative for the UN Human Rights Council to urgently address the escalating situation in Myanmar through a resolution at the upcoming 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The establishment of the FFM was considerably delayed for technical reasons. The lack of access to the country by independent investigators as well as the current outbreak of violence have further increased the magnitude of the body's work ahead of its March 2018 reporting deadline. In this context, the Council should pass a resolution on Myanmar which:

    1. Extends the time available for the FFM beyond March;
    2. Makes provision for the FFM to provide a preliminary report to the UN General Assembly in September 2017 and a final report to the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly in 2018;
    3. Calls on Myanmar to urgently grant full access to the FFM;
    4. Emphasises the responsibility of Myanmar to prevent and seek accountability for any retaliation or reprisal against individuals for engaging with the FFM;
    5. Expresses grave concern over recent allegations of violations and calls for an immediate end to attacks on the civilian population; and
    6. Urges full access for humanitarian aid and independent observers.

    Please accept the assurance of our highest consideration.

    1. ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma)
    2. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
    3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    4. Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC)
    5. Awaz Foundation Pakistan - Centre for Development Services (AwazCDS-Pakistan)
    6. Burma Campaign UK
    7. Bytes for All, Pakistan (B4A)
    8. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    9. Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
    10. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
    11. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    12. Civil Rights Defenders
    13. Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (kontraS)
    14. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
    15. Conectas Direitos Humanos
    16. Defend Defenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    17. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
    18. FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
    19. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
    20. Human Rights Watch
    21. Human Rights Working Group (HRWG)
    22. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
    23. Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC)
    24. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    25. Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP)
    26. Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
    27. Madaripur Legal Aid Association
    28. National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan
    29. Odhikar
    30. Partnership for Justice
    31. People's Empowerment Foundation, Thailand
    32. People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)
    33. PILIPINA Legal Resources Center (PLRC)
    34. Pusat KOMAS
    35. Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit
    36. Safeguard Defenders
    37. South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM)
    38. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
    39. Think Centre
    40. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

     

  • Outcomes & Reflections from 39th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    This session, the Council adopted landmark resolutions on several country situations, further enhancing its contribution to the protection of human rights. 

    On Myanmar, we welcome the creation of the independent investigative mechanism, which is an important step towards accountability for the horrific crimes committed in Myanmar, as elaborated in the Fact Finding Mission’s report to this session. The overwhelming support for the resolution, notwithstanding China’s shameful blocking of consensus, was a clear message to victims and survivors that the international community stands with them in their fight for justice. 

    On Yemen, the Council demonstrated that principled action is possible, and has sent a strong message to victims of human rights violations in Yemen that accountability is a priority for the international community, by voting in favor of renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts to continue international investigations into violations committed by all parties to the conflict. 

    Furthermore, we welcome the leadership by a group of States on the landmark resolution on Venezuela, and consider it as an important step for the Council applying objective criteria to address country situations that warrant its attention. The resolution, adopted with support from all regions, sends a strong message of support to the Venezuelan people. By opening up a space for dialogue at the Council, the resolution brings scrutiny to the tragic human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country.  

    While we welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi, to continue its critical investigation and work towards accountability, we regret, however, that the Council failed to respond more strongly to Burundi's record of non-cooperation and attacks against the UN human rights system. 

    We also welcome the Council’s adoption of the resolution on Syria, which among other things condemns all violations and abuses of international human rights law and all violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.

    However, on other country situations including China, Sudan, Cambodia and the Philippines, the Council failed to take appropriate action. 

    On Sudan, we are deeply concerned about the weak resolution that envisions an end to the Independent Expert’s mandate once an OHCHR office is set up; a "deal" Sudan has already indicated it does not feel bound by, and which is an abdication of the Council’s responsibility to human rights victims in Sudan while grave violations are ongoing. At a minimum, States should ensure the planned country office monitors and publicly reports on the human rights situation across Sudan, and that the High Commissioner is mandated to report to the Council on the Office’s findings.  

    We also regret the lack of concerted Council action on the Philippines, in spite of the need to establish independent international and national investigations into extrajudicial killings in the government's 'war on drugs', and to monitor and respond to the government's moves toward authoritarianism. 

    In addition, we regret the Council’s weak response to the deepening human rights and the rule of law crisis in Cambodia, failing to change its approach even when faced with clear findings by the Special Rapporteur demonstrating that the exclusive focus on technical assistance and capacity building in the country, is failing.

    We share the concerns that many raised during the session, including the High Commissioner, about China’s human rights record, specifically noting serious violations of the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province. It is regrettable that States did not make a concrete and collective call for action by China to cease the internment of estimates ranging up to 1 million individuals from these communities. 

    On thematic resolutions, we welcome the adoption of the resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs but would have preferred a stronger endorsement and implementation of the guidelines.

    The resolution on safety of journalists, adopted by consensus, sets out a clear roadmap of practical actions to end impunity for attacks. Journalism is not a crime - yet too many States in this room simply imprison those that criticize them. This must end, starting with the implementation of this resolution. 

    We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights in humanitarian settings. Women and girls affected by conflict have been denied accountability for too long. The implementation of this resolution will ensure that their rights, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights, are respected, protected and fulfilled. 

    Finally, the Council’s first interactive dialogue on acts of reprisals and intimidation was an important step to ensure accountability for this shameful practice, and we urge more States to have the courage and conviction to stand up for human rights defenders and call out countries that attack and intimidate them.

    Signatories:
    The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
    Amnesty International 
    Article 19
    Center for Reproductive Rights
    CIVICUS
    DefendDefenders
    FIDH
    Forum Asia 
    Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
    Human Rights Watch 
    International Commission of Jurists
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

     

  • Rights groups call for repeal of online defamation law in Myanmar

    Joint statement by 61 Myanmar and international human rights organizations

    Concerned by reports that the Myanmar authorities will retain the criminal defamation provision of Section 66(d) during a review of the Telecommunications Law, 61 national and international human rights organizations are urging the Myanmar authorities, and in particular the Ministry of Transport and Communication and the Parliament, to ensure it is repealed in the amended law.

    Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law provides for up to three years in prison for “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person using a telecommunications network.” In the last two years, this law has opened the door to a wave of criminal prosecutions of individuals for peaceful communications on Facebook and has increasingly been used to stifle criticism of the authorities. According to the 2013 Telecommunications Research Group, which has been documenting prosecutions under Section 66(d), at least 71 people are known to have been charged for online defamation under the law.

    The current review of the Telecommunications Law offers an important opportunity to repeal Section 66(d) and bring the 2013 Telecommunications Law fully in line with international human rights law and standards.  Failure to do so would raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to freedom of expression. It would, worryingly, leave people in the country at risk of imprisonment simply for sharing opinions online. It would also undermine the government’s reform and responsible business agenda, by chilling or even silencing the ability of the public and the media to report on public sector mismanagement, harmful and illegal business practices, and corruption.

    VAGUELY-WORDED, SECTION 66(D) HAS ALLOWED FOR AN ABUSIVE APPLICATION OF THE LAW 

    One of the most problematic aspects of Section 66(d) is its vagueness. Under international human rights law and standards, restrictions on the human right to freedom of expression are allowed for certain, narrowly defined purposes only, including to protect the rights and reputation of others.  Restrictions should be clear, detailed and well-defined in law, limited to those specified purposes, and necessary and proportionate to achieve their aim. 

    Section 66(d) does not adequately define what actions would be considered “disturbing”, or “causing undue influence.” These terms are overly broad and subject to widely different interpretations. Previous military governments for example, deemed the views of people who promoted democracy and human rights to be “disturbing.”

    This vagueness carries risks. Section 66(d) has been used to stifle criticism of both the civilian government and the military. For instance, individuals have been imprisoned for Facebook posts calling Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw an “idiot” and “crazy” and for posts mocking the Myanmar Army. One criminal prosecution revolved around the posting of an image depicting the Army’s Commander-in-Chief with a women’s htamein (a sarong-like garment) on his head.

    It is important to keep in mind that under international law, the purpose of laws covering defamation, libel, slander and insult is to protect the rights and reputations of people, not to prevent criticism of the government or of individual officials. According to UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to freedom of expression and the UN Human Rights Committee, public figures are necessarily subject to a greater degree of criticism than private citizens because of their institutional role, to ensure open debate about matters of public interest.

    The high volume of cases brought under Section 66(d) has also been facilitated by the fact that it allows anyone to file a complaint, even individuals other than the person who has allegedly been defamed. As a result, in Myanmar people have filed complaints on behalf of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw, as well as members of the military.

    In the past year we have also seen a surge in the number of criminal prosecutions initiated by private Facebook users against each other for posts that they believe to be untrue, insulting, offensive, or otherwise objectionable. These include, for example, Facebook posts saying that someone was a cheat, warning people against using specific businesses, or complaining about land disputes.

    DEFAMATION SHOULD NEVER BE CRIMINALISED – WHERE IT OCCURS THERE ARE OTHER WAYS TO ADDRESS IT

    Although international human rights law and standards do not prohibit the use of defamation laws for purposes such as protecting the rights and reputations of people, international authorities including the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression and the UN Human Rights Committee have affirmed that defamation should never be a criminal offence.  This is because imprisoning someone for defaming another person is disproportionate and can threaten the right to freedom of expression itself. The threat of imprisonment can prevent people from peacefully speaking out on sensitive issues and lead to self-censorship.

    There are other ways to address defamation, including online defamation, which do not involve imprisonment, for example through making it a matter of civil rather than criminal law. In addition, those responsible could be made to issue an apology, a public rectification or clarification in order to restore the reputation that has been harmed.

    Our organizations are deeply concerned that some members of the administration appear to view Section 66(d) as a solution to address advocacy of hatred. We recognize that Myanmar has a growing problem in this regard and welcome attempts to address this. However, Section 66(d) has done little to prevent such activity. Instead, it has enabled an environment of intolerance and conflict by allowing anyone who deems a Facebook post “offensive” to sue the author.

    As the government has expressed its intention to adopt a separate law on hate speech, we would like to stress that any prohibition of advocacy of hatred must be formulated precisely and not unlawfully restrict freedom of expression. Beyond legislation, our organizations believe authorities at all levels should speak out against discriminatory rhetoric and ensure broader policy measures are undertaken to tackle the root causes of intolerance, including for instance by promoting intercultural dialogue and education on diversity and pluralism. 

    RECOMMENDATIONS
    In light of the above, our organizations are urging the Myanmar authorities to:

    • Repeal Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law;
    • Or at a very minimum, amend it to ensure that: defamation is no longer criminalized and that where recognizably criminal acts such as “extortion”, “coercion”, “wrongful restraint” and “threats” occur in the law they are clearly defined in line with international human rights law, so as to ensure it is not used to criminalise the peaceful expression of views. 

    As long as Section 66(d) remains, people in Myanmar – especially those who criticise officials and government policies online – will be at risk of being imprisoned for their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. 

    List of signatories:

    1. Alin Mee Ain 
    2. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma) 
    3. All Arakan Students' and Youths' Congress (AASYC) 
    4. Amnesty International 
    5. Arakan Rivers Network (ARN)  
    6. Area Peace and Development Forward 
    7. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) 
    8. Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP-B) 
    9. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP) 
    10. Association Suisse Birmanie (ASB)  
    11. Burma Campaign UK (BCUK)  
    12. Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) 
    13. Burma Link 
    14. Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
    15. Charity-Oriented Myanmar 
    16. Cherry Images  
    17. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
    18. CIVICUS
    19. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)  
    20. Colors Rainbow 
    21. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)  
    22. Equality Myanmar (EQMM) 
    23. Farmer Rights and Development Organization 
    24. Farmer Union, Magway 
    25. Fortify Rights  
    26. Free Burma Campaign (South Africa) 
    27. Free Expression Myanmar (FEM) 
    28. Future Light Center 
    29. Gender Equality Network  
    30. Green Network Sustainable Environment Group 
    31. Human Rights Documentation-Burma (ND-Burma) 
    32. Human Rights Educators Association (HREA) 
    33. Human Rights Educators Network (HREN) 
    34. Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) 
    35. Human Rights Watch (HRW) 
    36. Info Birmanie (France) 
    37. Institute for Asian Democracy  
    38. International Campaign for the Rohingya  
    39. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)  
    40. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 
    41. Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) 
    42. Korean House for International Solidarity
    43. Magway EITI Watch Group  
    44. Mon Youth Educator Organization (MYEO) 
    45. Mwetaung Area Development Group 
    46. Myaing Youth Development Organization 
    47. New Generation (Shan State) 
    48. Nyein Chan Yar 
    49. Norwegian Burma Committee
    50. Odhikar 
    51. Peace and Justice Myanmar (PJM)  
    52. Progressive Voice (PV) 
    53. Promotion of Indigenous and Nature Together (POINT) 
    54. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)  
    55. Shwechinthae Social Service Group (Shwe Bo) 
    56. Swedish Burma Committee  
    57. The Seagull: Human Rights, Peace & Development 
    58. United-ACT  
    59. US Campaign for Burma
    60. Women and Peace Action Network (Shan State) 
    61. Women Peace Network

     

  • Statement: Severe restrictions to fundamental freedoms persist in Myanmar

    41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Interactive Dialogue on the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

    We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s oral update on Myanmar and urge the Government to resume its cooperation and grant access to the Special Rapporteur, and to address the situation on the ground.

    We are particularly concerned that severe restrictions to fundamental freedoms persist in Myanmar. Peaceful protesters continue to face arbitrary arrest and excessive use of force by the police. In the last few months, protesters have been charged under the Penal Code or the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for their activism.

    A Resolution adopted at the last Session of this Council called on Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release journalists, human rights defenders and activists detained under various restrictive laws. While journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo may have been freed, restrictive laws including the Telecommunications Law, Unlawful Associations Act, Official Secrets Act and defamation provisions in the Penal Code continue to be used to prosecute activists and journalists in Myanmar. Irrawaddy editor U Ye Ni is facing defamation charges for an article on the conflict on the Rakhine state which the Myanmar military deemed “one-sided”.

    Those who criticize the military, even satirically, are persecuted. Members of the Peacock Generation troupe face defamation charges after live-streaming on Facebook a satirical performance which criticized the military. In April, prominent filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was detained in connection with a series of social media posts in which he criticised the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

    We are deeply concerned by increasing restrictions to humanitarian access in Rakhine State, deliberately denying support to a population which is gravely in need of it, and willfully obstructing independent reports of the atrocities which are being committed there.

    Myanmar’s backsliding on democratic norms compounds the gross human rights violations outlined in the Special Rapporteur’s report. We urge the government of Myanmar to cooperate fully with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and all other Human Rights Council mechanisms and, in the absence of such cooperation, we ask the Special Rapporteur what action she would suggest that states and national and international civil society could take in order to hold Myanmar accountable to upholding democratic norms?
     

     

  • Supreme Court set to rule on Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar

     

    • Myanmar’s Supreme Court is set to rule on an appeal by two jailed Reuters journalists on 23 April 
    • Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been jailed since December 2017, and convicted of violating a state secrets act in September 2018
    • The case highlights the increasing crackdown on press freedom in Myanmar

    The Myanmar Supreme Court must order the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) said today. The two journalists, who have been jailed since 2017, are set to go before the country’s highest court on 23 April. The court will rule upon their appeal, which was submitted on grounds that lower court rulings involved errors in judicial procedure.

    In December 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were handed several documents during a dinner meeting that turned out to be secret government materials relating to Myanmar’s western Rakhine state and security forces.  They were then arrested  and charged under the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act and in September 2018, they were convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for “illegal possession of official documents.”

    During the trial, a police captain, admitted in court that a senior officer had ordered his subordinates to “trap” the journalists by handing them the classified documents. He was subsequently sentenced to a one-year prison term.  

    At the time of their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Inn Din village in Rakhine during a brutal military crackdown against the Rohingya minority that began in August 2017. 

    An appeal by the two journalists to a lower court earlier this year on substantive grounds was rejected on the basis that lawyers failed to prove that the pair were innocent.

    “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent 16 months in prison on spurious charges. The Supreme Court must take this opportunity to address this travesty of justice,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher. “No journalist should be in prison for doing their job. Their arrest and conviction have sadly created a chilling effect on the media in Myanmar.”

    A UN Human Rights Council Resolution adopted at the Council’s 40th Session called on Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, as well as other journalists, human rights defenders and activists detained under various restrictive laws.

    “This case highlights the bleak situation for freedom of expression and press freedom in Myanmar. Overly broad, vague, and abusive laws have been systematically used to prosecute dozens of activists and journalists for the peaceful activism,” said Ichal Supriadi, Secretary-General from the Asia Democracy Network.

    In March 2019, in the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar raised concerns about “a decreasing space for the expression of views that are critical” of the government and the “increasing self-censorship by journalists, as well as continued wielding of problematic laws by the government against those who speak out.” 

    CIVICUS and ADN call on the Supreme Court to order the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and reiterate calls for the authorities in Myanmar to take immediate steps to ensure that journalists can do their jobs. 

    TheCIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Myanmar asrepressed.

    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    josef.benedict[at]civicus.org

     

  • United Kingdom responds to CIVICUS members’ Security Council questions

    Karen Pierce, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the UN, addresses the Security Council. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

    French | Spanish

    As part of its consultations with civil society during its Presidency of the Security Council for the month of August, the United Kingdom’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations responded to questions submitted by CIVICUS members on the security situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea/Ethiopia, Gaza and Myanmar.

    Civil society play an important role in the Security Council’s agenda and CIVICUS thanks the United Kingdom and all members of the Security Council for their ongoing commitment to involving civil society in the council’s workings.


    Democratic Republic of Congo

    Seven questions were submitted from civil society in the Democratic Republic of Congo reflecting a high level of concern about the security situation there in the lead up to elections in December. Members asked if the Council is monitoring the current situation as well as how the Council plans to prevent deaths during the upcoming elections.

    The Security Council is monitoring the situation in DRC closely.  In resolution 2409 we asked the Secretary General to provide us with 30 day reports.  The Council also discusses the DRC frequently. The Security Council continues to underline the importance of peaceful, credible, inclusive and timely elections on 23 December 2018, in line with the electoral calendar, leading to a peaceful transfer of power, in accordance with the Congolese Constitution.  The Security Council also continues to stress the importance of protecting civilians, including through the mandate for MONUSCO which includes the protection of civilians as a strategic priority. During the UK Presidency, there was a Security Council briefing on the DRC, focusing on the upcoming elections. The Ambassador’s statement can be found here.

    Eritrea-Ethiopia

    A question on Eritrean-Ethiopian relations noted that the relationship has begun to normalise and improve rapidly. While there is no doubt that international and regional efforts have played a role in this improvement it is remarkable that there has been a push for an improvement of human rights and the democratic situation on the Ethiopian side but that the same has not been extended to Eritrea. Does the Security Council now plan to push to improve the human rights situation in Eritrea?

    The Security Council issued a statement on the Signing of Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship between Eritrea and Ethiopia on 9 July 2018.

    Gaza

    Palestinian Consultative Staff for Developing NGOs, from the West Bank asked about why the Council is reducing UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) services, especially to children, women and elderly people. They also asked if the Security Council would consider visiting Gaza.

    UNRWA was established and is mandated by the UN General Assembly.  The possibility of service suspension due to UNRWA’s current financial shortfall is a matter of grave concern to members of the Security Council; as was expressed during the 22 August Council consultations on the situation in the Middle East.

    The UK remains firmly committed to supporting UNRWA and Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. In the face of growing financial pressures, the UK has provided approximately $60 million USD in 2018. We continue to urge others to provide additional funding and regular disbursements to ensure that UNRWA can continue its essential work.

    The Security Council is following closely and with concern the situation in Gaza, including through regular briefings such as that provided to the Council on 22 August by Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo.

    Myanmar

    Maisaa Alamoodi a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia asked if the Council would consider imposing sanctions on the Government of Myanmar if it continues to abuse the rights of the Rohingya and prevent their safe return home.

    The UK’s overriding long term aim is the safe, voluntary and dignified return to Rakhine, under international monitoring, of as many as possible of the million Rohingya refugees currently in Bangladesh. We currently do not deem the conditions are right for the refugees to return. We will support Burma to do this, but it needs to make tangible improvements on the ground. Most immediately, Burma should allow the UN unfettered access to northern Rakhine.  

    The UK has welcomed Burma’s announcement of a Commission of Inquiry into the violence in Rakhine. It is now essential that the Burmese government now sets out how the investigation will be credible, transparent and impartial. We are still awaiting the ICC's decision if it has jurisdiction over Rohingya deportations to Bangladesh (a Rome Statute signatory).


    Other questions received from CIVICUS members this month covered civic freedoms in Colombia, the withdrawal of UNAMID troops from Darfur, food insecurity in the Sahel, the relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, the deterioration of civic space in Uganda, Sudanese leader, Omar Al Bashir’s case in the International Criminal Court and the global threat of cyber crime.

    These question/response are the outcomes of a Monthly Call to CIVICUS members to submit their question to the President of the UN Security Council. This is an opportunity for members to connect with an important international forum where decisions are made. CIVICUS staff pose the questions on CIVICUS members’ behalf during the President’s brief each month. Stay in touch and be part of this action by joining CIVICUS as a member.

    For more information please contact Lyndal Rowlands,